Diminished Chords And Scales

author: beatallica_fan date: 02/10/2005 category: the basics
rating: 9.3 / votes: 68 
Diminished Chords and Scales. Right for this set of lessons we will be taking a closer look at the generally more complex scales which are used within jazz composition and improvisation. For the first lesson we will look at diminished chords and diminished scales. I will also be giving examples of their wider uses through a number of genres. The mp3 for this lesson can be found at my homepage at the bottom of the page, it runs in chronological order to the lesson so should be easy to follow. Fully diminished chords are intersting in that the four notes which form them, are all the same interval apart, a minor third. So for example E fully diminished will be E, then up a minor third to G, then up a minor third to Bb and then up a minor third to Db. Because of this symmetry no one note takes priority, so an E diminished chord can also be named G diminished, Bb diminshed or Db diminished, it's all a matter of context as to which is the most appropriate. Here are a few examples voicings of this chord. So to learn the full set of voicings for all 12 diminished chords you actually only need to learn 3 sets, each sets applies to four diminished chords.
|-3--------------6--|
|-2--5--2--8--5--5--|
|-3--3--3--6--6--6--|
|-2--5--2--8--5--5--|
|----4--x--7--x-----|
|-------3-----6-----|
etc etc Notice how the shapes are often quite similar, with only the bass note changing. See if you can come up with any other voicings higher up the neck. Listen to the lesson mp3 to hear these chords being voiced. As you will know from lessons on major, minor and dominant chord formation chords have a numeric formula, and diminished chords are no different, though theyre formula may be confusing for those used solely to the major scale and its modes. A fully diminished chord is spelt 1 b3 b5 and bb7, now the bb7 is new territory to a lot of people, I will go into it further when talking about diminished scales but as brief explanation it is named bb7 as it is the seventh note of the parent scale, but is a full tone below a natural seventh interval. You may also have noticed that a fully diminished chord contains 2 tri-tone intervals (a tri-tone is an inteval of 3 full steps, dividing the octave into two equal parts). These two tri tones give the dim chord a huge amount of tension, so it is always wanting to resolve, this can prove to be a very useful compositional tool. You may sometimes see a diminished chord refered to as just 1 b3 b5, this is a straight diminished chord, it functions much the same as a fully diminished chord and is easier to voice, but gives a less complete sound in my opinion, due to only containing one tri tone. Finally I will give you an example of diminished chords being used in a famous, popular song, Michelle by The Beatles. The verse section of the song is based on a progression of F, Bbm, Eb6, Ddim, Fdim, C, Bdim and back to C, tabbed below and included on the mp3.
|-8---9---8-----------8-------8---|
|-6---6---8---6---9---8---6---8---|
|-5---6---8---4---7---9---7---9---|
|-7---8---8---6---9---10--6---10--|
|---------6---5---8---10--X---10--|
|---------------------8---7---8---|
See how the D diminished works, it creates tension, and when the slide to F dim begins you are tricked into thinking, albeit briefly, that a resolution is on its way, but the chord slides to another dim chord, F dim, same notes just a different order, this increases the tension even more. This is finally released as we hit a C major, but this is taken away quickly by slipping down to the B dim voicing, again same notes as the previous 2 dim chords, but different voicing and order, this then resolves back up a semi tone to C, beautiful. This idea of shifting dim chords around, so retaining the same four notes but altering the order has also been used in shred/neo-classical/metal, heres a fairly generic example, simple to what you might hear from Yngwie Malmsteen, a recording of this can be found on the lessons mp3.
|-------2/5---------------8/11------------------|
|-----4-----7----------10------13---------------|
|-2-5---------8-5/8-11------------14-11/15~-----|
|-----------------------------------------------|
|-----------------------------------------------|
|-----------------------------------------------|
Diminished scales. There are two types of diminished scale, the first we will look at is the half whole diminished scale. This describes the nature of the scale, so after every half step interval there is a whole step interval. rom this you can see dim scales are a departure from ionian etc as they contain 8 different notes, hece the prescence of the bb7. So E half whole is as follows, E F G Ab Bb B Db D. Heres a tab of one position of this scale, this can also be found on the mp3.
|-------------------------------------------------12--|
|----------------------------------------12-14-15-----|
|-------------------------------12-13-15--------------|
|-------------------11-12-14-15-----------------------|
|----------11-13-14-----------------------------------|
|-12-13-15--------------------------------------------|
As well as being used over straight dim chords this scale is particularly useful over dom chords, with or without alterations, as it shares many notes with the altered scale. E HW being E F G Ab Bb B Db D, E alt scale being E F G Bb C D E. I have recorded a short vamp on an E7b9 chord using E Half whole dim scale, check the mp3. The second diminished scale is the whole half, the same principle applies, just after the root we have a whole step instead of a half step, and so on. Heres a tab with an mp3 section to go with it.
|----------------------------------------------11-12--|
|----------------------------------------13-14--------|
|----------------------------11-12-14-15--------------|
|-------------------11-13-14--------------------------|
|----------12-13-15-----------------------------------|
|-12-14-15--------------------------------------------|
This scale is mostly used over straight dim chords, and that is how ived used it in my example, please note the way I phrase the passage, play a lick and then play the same lick but all notes shifted up a minor third, you can do with everything to do with dim scales and chords and its a great way to get the maximum mileage out of a few licks. Now as with chords, the nature of dim scales means we dont have too many positions to learn E G Bb and Db all use the same scales, as do F G# B D, and F# A C Eb, so you get four scales for the price of one, and if you think of the Whole half as the second mode of half whole, or vice versa, you get eight scales for the price of one, neat eh, Though it is still important to be able to play each as a separate entity and know where it will best work. So how can we use these scales in our soloing, well I'll level with you, it isnt easy, it sounds cliche but you really have to get a feel foir playing jazz, get a feel for swing and the way the rhythm accompanies you. General advice that applies to any scale within jazz is don't bend any notes, use slides hammer ons, pulls offs, legato any of that, but no bends. Also get a nice mellow warm tone, cut down on the treble, roll the tone down on your guitar and boost the bass and mids, in an ideal world jazz should be played on a hollowbody guitar, or a jazz box as they are sometimes known. Specifically to the dim scales, Half-Whole has a huge amount of tension within it, every non chord tone is a semi tone above a chord tone, eg E dim, is made of E G Bb Db, E HW dim is E F G Ab Bb B Db D, take out the chord tones, youre left with F Ab B and D, which if youre on the ball youll notice is an F dim chord (as an aside starting the E HW dim scale from F will give you F WH dim, so you can almost think of WH as the second mode of HW), targeting those notes will provide dissonance which can sound really cool, but remember to resolve it nicely. As stated previously phrases can be shifted around by intervals of a minor third with no bother. Whole-Half is slightly different, its non chord tones, are a semi tone below the chord tones, when we have a note a half step below a target note it is known as a leading tone, the note wants to lead to the target note. Because of this the soloing with the whole-half will lead to a need for resolution, your phrases will often give a feel of needing resolving, outline a dim chord a semi tone below the backing chord and then resolve up a semi tone with your last note, beautiful tension beautifully resolved. If you want to increase tension go the other way, play largely within the chord tones until the end of the phrase, stick in a non chord tone and then hit that sweet resolution. As a final note I would say one of the best ways to get your head around dim lead lines is to really know your dim chords, know all the voicings and positions, if you know how to out line a dim chord anywhere on the neck you can use that as the basis for your soloing, and with the uniform nature of the scale its easy to come up with phrases based off that. Well that has scratched the surface of diminished chords and scales, theres plenty more for you to discover so get playing.

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